Mountains

The time I took ten students to the war-torn region of Kashmir and they loved it

The time I took ten students to the war-torn region of Kashmir and they loved it

Have you ever been on a trip that you knew was so special: every detail seemed divinely delivered, every moment one to journal about, every vision worthy of an Instagram? This was the sentiment possessed by all involved in our trip. Lazy nights spent huddled around the fire were coupled with songs or thoughtful talks about travel. Even in moments where the students were out of their element, up before dawn, freezing, or pushed to their physical limits on hikes, they were still so engaged. The usual shyness of students in need of filtering questions through their teachers to the guides dissolved after a half hour on the ground. The students loved Ashika.

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Sitting pensive amidst a teal river in Bumthang, Bhutan

Sitting pensive amidst a teal river in Bumthang, Bhutan

Bhutan in the winter energizes the hunger for discovery that's resident in children lucky enough to be young. It would take a dark closet for decades to produce this contrast anywhere else, the specialness clear with every sip of cold mountain air or gentle exchange. I can't say this is what travel should always be, because it's only through their unique set of occurrences that yielded such an outcome. But what they have set up, from my effortless post, has a wonderful effect. Wool is nowhere near our eyes, and we are learning individual lessons from the backgrounds we brought.

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My global kids romp through four countries in five days

My global kids romp through four countries in five days

Some of my students called it "the best five days of their lives." That kind of statement carries a good load coming from kids who visited the Galápagos, the Amazon rainforest, and the Bavarian Alps this year alone. At the end of the academic year, my students were given the great opportunity by the school to live out their own Amazing Race through Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria.

I went along for the ride.

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Consume & Update: Tony, Mallory, and My Glory Days

Consume & Update: Tony, Mallory, and My Glory Days

For those of you who follow me on twitter, you may know my grandmother passed away two weeks ago. I apologize if my quality of work falls a bit in this next month or two, because this is one death that will keep hitting me for a while. Soon to come is a post about her and the side of her I don't yet know all about: her world traveling side. The research begins this week. She was one cool lady.

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Journeys of a Lifetime in March

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Sampo Arctic Icebreaker: Crunch across Finlands waterways in this 75 meter ship, and psych yourself up for a quick dip in the icy sea - protected by a thermal watertight suit, of course. Book well in advance. This looks awesome.

The Lower Zambezi River: What an incredible ride in between Zambia and Zimbabwe, where I actually saw elephants swimming, massive crocodiles sunning, and hippos pop out of nowhere - scaring the living daylights outta me.

By Road

From Cairo to the Cape: Africa is a trail map, and this is the main route. Bike it, overland it, drive it, but I beg you...don't walk through the Sahara. Give yourself at least two months, more like four, to make the trek, and you'll really feel like you know Africa.

From Delhi to Agra: Try shrine-hopping in India, avoiding the bulk of the heat and rain in March. Aside from the usual must-dos like the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, be sure to visit Fatehpur Sikri to see a well-preserved palace complex with an interesting history...no, really!

By Rail

The Shinkansen: The mother of all train systems. The Japanese are so time-efficient, the driver will humbly apologize if the train arrives even a minute behind the expected TOA. All you'll be thinking on this trip, aside from how clean and swanky everything is, is scenery...scenery...scenery...ooooh, cherry blossoms!

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Definitely not for the backpacker type, this line from London toParis to Innsbruck to Venice is possibly the most luxurious train in the world (ex: bring your black tie). Mark off two days and one night in March 2011 and take one of the year's first rides across the Alps and Dolomites.

On Foot

The Grand Traverse: Amble the great divide between Fiordland and the Southern Alps in New Zealand's South Island, and make sure you get there in time for the clear views in March. A five day trek with camping lodges on the way; it sounds like you need to book ahead to witness this masterpiece of nature.

The National Mall: After Japan, why not doing the Grand World Tour of Cherry Blossoms (not a real trip) by hitting up D.C. thawing trail. Bring some stellar walking shoes to visit all the memorials, but don't forget your artsy scarf and cat-eye glasses for the museums next!

In Search of Culture

Venetian Legacy: After taking the luxurious train from London to Venice, why not continue onward by stepping back in time, to when the Venetians were on top of the trading world. Take a ferry to Cyprus, via Greece, to view the cultural and economic influences on the harbor cities - town halls, mansions, fortresses, and all things tall, flashy and handsome.

Moorish Spain: Wind around Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Ronda to observe the remnants of the region once called the most civilized and properous in Europe (for 400 years, I might add). The Moors were partial to using Arabic architectural elements, bling in the form of gold leaf, and serious tricks with water fountain construction.

In Gourmet Heaven

Malbec in Mendoza: I don't think I need to do too much convincing with this one. Here's all you need to know: Argentina, mountains, wine, meat...done. Oh, and I can't forget, the first weekend of March holds the Vendimia, or harvest, festival. Don't you dare miss that!

Margaret River Wine Region: Man, I'm all about the wine this month. Visit the very bottom left of Australia in March, and you'll not only have beautiful red teeth from all the lovely wine tastings but also ears ringing from the sweet music of local events and festivals. While you're there, why not check out where the Indian and Southern Oceans converge. Kir-Splash!

Into the Action

Dogsledding in Alaska: Go just about any cold month and experience your mushing fantasy; however, venture up to Alaska in March and try your skills on the Iditarod trail, which will be held at that time. Not sure how much of a spectator sport it is, with its 1,151 mile course, but surely the scenery and will of the competitors is awe-inspiring.

Vermont's Catamount Trail: Can you ski across an entire state? Why not give it a try? Because it's hard...but, boy, what a story you could tell your friends back at home, through your chapped lips. Take a month and meander up or down the trail through the Green Mountains, stopping in country inns along the way. Be sure and carb load with lots of maple syrup!

Up and Away

Heliskiing the Alps: It's exactly what it sounds like: skiing on new snow overlooking the entire mountain range of the European Alps. Whether you go through France, Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, it doesn't matter. Base yourself at one ski resort or move around across borders. All you're going to remember are the amazing views and the adrenaline rushes.

Microlight on my Golden Birthday

Microlight on my Golden Birthday

Victoria Falls by Microlight: I was fortunate enough to experience this on my golden birthday, when I turned 23 on the 23rd. Get up early in the morning, put on a helmet, and board a kite with a lawn mower engine attached. Fly into a surreal world above the trees where you can see hippos swimming, elephant herds wandering, and the world's largest waterfall spew water of gigantic proportions.

In Their Footsteps

Route Napoleon: Why march in March along Napoleon's footsteps post-exile in Alba? Why, for authenticity of course! Make your way from Cannes to Grenoble, although I imagine you won't be greeted by mobs of supporters calling you "emperor," Oh well, at least you'll see some pretty cool scenery.

Tolstoy's Russia: Witness what inspired Leo Tolstoy to create work, such as Anna Karenina, by following his trail of museums and influential cities. Be certain you take a day (or two) trip to Tula, where he was born and now lies today. Tula also marks the location of his experimental school, friends, favorite natural surroundings, the peasants he worked with, and his novels' conceptions and creations. Enjoy the brisk winds of Russia in March!

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in April for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Journeys of a Lifetime in December

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Airboat in the Everglades: Get deep into the mangrove forests of Florida's backcountry where alligators seemingly get bigger as you go deeper; you may even catch the rare Florida panther if there's a blue moon out.

Lake Nicaragua: A freshwater lake surrounded by lush forest and volcanoes? Crocodile-like reptiles submerged below the jungle canals? Swordfish sport fishing in a mystic lagoon? Am I dreaming?

By Road

The Grand Trunk Road: Peshawar to Kolkata: a road some call "the great river of life." It's a highway beaded with historical and memorable cities that combine to make an incredible, South Asian road trip.

The Pan American Highway: It's pavement that spans continents, but taking a ride in Tierra del Fuego and reach the end of the world: Ushuaia. You'll see grazing grasslands and ominous, omni-present mountains. Pretty great, huh?

By Rail

El Chepe: Ride the rails through an unspoiled landscape four times larger than the Grand Canyon. Indigenous Indians of central Mexico line the way, giving you access to a brilliant Latino culture.

The TranzAlpine: Cross Arthur's Pass and witness a blizzard outside your train window on this mountainous journey through the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Sounds like it gets wild.

On Foot

The Headhunters' Trail: Stay in a longhouse with Iban villages. Wade through the tea-colored waters while admiring the limestone spires. Hope you still have your head upon the trip's completion.

The Levadas of Madeira: The levadas of Portugal are a network of watercourses that hydrate the paradiasical sugarcane fields. Apparently, moseying along these canals is a camera-friendly activity.

In Search of Culture

Colonial Virginia: Even if reenactments and period acting isn't to your fancy, Christmas just may be, and Williamsburg does this holiday justice.

Ancient Egypt: Show up for the peak Nile cruising season and enjoy the history museums to make sure your time in this ancient landscape is epic.

In Gourmet Heaven

Blue Mountain Coffee: It's the best coffee in the world. It's the best time to visit Jamaica. Those are two good reasons.

Vietnamese Cuisine: Imagine a leaf of cilantro floating on a sea of seasoned broth, handmade noodles sitting below the surface like a hundred Loch Ness monsters. Are you hungry for some pho yet?

Into the Action

Surfing in Hawai'i: You're going to need a wetsuit in that chilly water, but you're also going to catch some towering waves at hot spots like Waimea beach or the Banzai pipeline on O'ahu island.

Friesland's Eleven Cities' Tour: 16,000 ice skaters jump at the proclamation of the Elfstedentocht race, which only happens on the rare occasion in Holland when the ice is 5.9 cm thick. Await the call of the race anxiously and follow the races route along the footpath beside the frozen river.

Up and Away

Skyriding over St. Lucia: This Caribbean island will make you see colors. Real colors. Absolutely vibrant hues popping through the tropical air. Zipline around the canopies of the forest, and then save some time for some fresh product at a cocoa estate.

Angkor by Helicopter: Seeing the world's largest religious monument in a way that few experience, an enlightened view from above. See what can be done with incredible planning, gray stone and a herd of trained elephants for heavy lifting.

In Their Footsteps

Hemingway in Cuba: The Malecon was Hemingway's first view of Havana after sailing from America. Go and be moved by the same places this famous writer and Nobel Laureate frequented during his time on this vivacious island.

Alex Haley's Roots: See what Alex Haley found when visiting Gambia, a main topic of his Pulitzer winning book Roots. It would involve a boat ride and a village chief...and surely an incredible cultural quest.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in January for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

The Best Part of Wakin' Up: Day 171

COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE

Smile and decline.

COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE CHAAAAAAAI

I wasn't tired. Yes, I woke up at 3:30am and ran through the echoing city of Darjeeling in the bare cold of her film noir-esque pre-dawn. Yes, I jumped in a stranger's jeep, gave him two dollars, and squashed against four other foreigners on a bumpy half hour ride. And at 8,500 feet, it is true that the wind and the chill on Tiger Hill are hard to endure without a blanket, an adequate jacket, or a warm body to lean against. However, anticipation is a more effective stimulant than anything that can be brewed or smuggled in a dirty balloon. I declined the back-to-back offers for a drink and waited, shivering. The horizon was turning blood red, and I could faintly see her lines in the distance.

At this height, we were face to face, Kangchenjunga and I. The sky was nearly opaque, but the jags marking her presence cut through the miles between. Cameras were poised at the sunrise and bodies huddled against a steel barrier looking eastward. I didn't get that. I have seen the world turn slowly towards the luminous star countless times before. It's beautiful, until the bright ball emerges and burrows into your retinas. I stood alone to the west. I was waiting for the big climax. I was waiting for nature's most incredible billboard of light and color.

On one side of Tiger Hill, a layer cake of slate blue, cream-sicle orange and crimson changed the sky, casting a subtle glow on the floating castle to the west. Below this spectacle, the foothills wore the blanket of night's darkness. Bhutan was just seeing its sunrise, and, now, so were the peaks of Nepal, the sun skipping over Darjeeling and all of the West Bengali hills until a more reasonable hour.

The mist caught the ambient light and illuminated the edges of each tea plantation and rolling bubble of land. The air below looked wet and heavy, slowly becoming the color of a glacial lake. Prayer flags flapped their silhouettes against a mystical backdrop. Suddenly, the world was pastel and wearing a tiara. I whispered.

"Wow."

It's not easy to upstage Kangchenjunga from this vista, but Everest made a stab at it. I could see her from behind the curtain of haze in the twilight's glow. I saw the Earth's crown from 107 miles away. She hid between two other 8000+ meter beasts and winked at me as if to lean around the curtain and say, "Get ready for my big entrance."

Meanwhile, the tiara alit as if the snow caught fire and burned from head to toe. It was an orange I've only witnessed on buildings during Italian sunsets in summertime. Nothing else mattered in the world, an impressive beauty that occurs every day over the grime of human existence. We gasped and held our breath until the tingles subsided, fingers poised over the shutter. The summit and its radiating edges looked jagged and razor sharp, as if the sky or the wind would suddenly snag and bleed from a cosmic gash.

Two minutes after the mountain fire, Planet Earth had its ultimate daily idea. Its principal light bulb turned on as steadily as a wave's advance. Somewhere, in the middle of Nepal, Everest grabbed sunlight an hour before her foothills would know night was over. It was a sight capable of buckling knees. I propped myself against a jeep and called home. They were all in a movie theater, enjoying a Heartland Film Festival specialty, and messaged they would call me later. What does one do after beholding their dream sight? Stare in disbelief and laugh at modern-day advances in global communication; that's what.

Still vibrating, I returned to Darjeeling and climbed the hill to Alice Villa Guesthouse. The stray dogs were sleeping across main square in any patch of light that warmed the cement. Arriving back to my room, I crawled into the bed, opened my novel, and savored the last of my Tibetan dumplings from the night before. Occasionally, I let out a "Ha!" upon every flashback to the morning's thrill. In the fall of 2007, I read my first book on these mountains and made the initial steps of my pilgrimage. Approximately one year later, I reached fulfillment.

The developed world spends so much time pitying the lifestyles of those on the other side, which makes ignoring these realities more possible. However, I will forever applaud any man, woman, or child who has enabled themselves to start every morning like this, with a sunrise so majestic it blurs the line between reality and ultimate fantasy. A view like that just doesn't seem real. Actually, it's completely ludicrous that I am from a place that appears eternally colored by the gray scale. My old concept of a great landscape was a luscious Indiana field of corn without a massive power line going through it. This is why I told my travel agent to send me to northern India. I needed to see nature exhibit her "Best in Show."

A Dumpling with a View: Day 170

I wrote these thoughts while on the "road"..."A nervous dog pacing for a good, sunny, uncrowded spot to bathe and relax A little boy snorting and scaring girls (including me) to impress his buddy between swings on the monkey bars Old women with elephant wrinkles thumbing 109 prayer beads"

This "road" could have be anywhere. And then... "School boys and older men standing right in my sightline of the 8000m high mountains, staring hard back at me or posing with nonchalance Faces beam, evident of an eclectic mix, where the South, East, and Southeast become a passionate blend The world's chimneys billow the breath of the skies"

I was in a fascinating nook of the world, a nook I used to dream about being tucked into. And then I got there…the West Bengali Hills of India.

The Way back to Enlightening Elevations It took a sixteen hour train ride, filled with traveling bands, beggars, and more chai salesmen than one could shake a stick at, until I felt a cool breeze once more. Befriending the Germans below my sleeper bed gave me an always-appreciated price cut on the $1 rickshaw ride from New Jaipalguri station to the Siliguri bus terminal, and knowing far too well the antics of the transportation biz in India, I anticipated and enjoyed a small fight with our driver, who claimed sudden inflation by the time we reached our destination.

It was a battle fought with smiles and a constant handshake, and the Germans watched patiently. I saw the driver rack his brain quickly for a way to get more money from our pockets, and an audience began to form, though they were relatively uninterested with this common scammer occurrence. A tip to those who encounter this situation with annoyance: write the agreed price on your hand in front of the driver and proceed to strike a creepy pose towards him or her, smiling for the entire ride until he caves in hopelessness, knowing you are a rupee-pincher 'til you D.I.E.

If I feel anything towards policemen in my own country, it's fear, even when I'm not doing anything wrong. Must be a Pavlovian dog response from years of conditioning. However, in any other country, it seems police are hired to just stand on street corners and chew unknown substances along with the "every man," except the "every man" doesn't carry a big stick. I use these statuesque resources for help around town, though they are almost always the ones who cannot speak English. There's always that lingering obligation, though, that causes these civil servants to help you, and this is how I was introduced to two travelers in desperate need of a ride to Darjeeling.

All buses had stopped service, no trains could rise into the mountains, and all jeeps were seemingly hired. Down the road, we saw a sign for the last ride of the day, jumped into a Jeep after about seven seconds of thought, paid $2, and settled our minds and bags into the already packed vehicle. Enter two or three more bodies and a second driver hanging onto the spare tire rack in the rear, and we're off. The driver stopped the Jeep to place some kind of sailor hat on his head and then booked it up the switchbacks into the Himalayas. It was such flavor for a simple three hour car ride. This is how it always is in India.

With a Chinese man sitting on my left leg, an Israeli's knees pressed against mine making sweat sandwiches, a greasy head laying on my right elbow, and a backpack compacting my stomach, I could do nothing but submit to my discomfort. Not only was I in a clown car, rising in altitude, and bumping from pothole to crumbling pothole, I hadn't gone to the bathroom in 26 hours. I didn't trust anyone with my bags in the sleeper car, nor did I want to experience the sum of the food poisoning + rocking Indian train equation. My body was not amused, and it slowly began to drain me of all vivacity and life to the point of being an empty shell by the time we hit Darjeeling.

For the first time, I wasn't bombarded, or even approached, when I walked around the town. It was dark, shops were still ablaze and selling assorted wares, and I wandered nearly unconscious by my distressed bowels. I stood outside a parked taxi and stared at the relaxing driver like a beaten puppy, hoping he would give me quick and easy directions to a hotel I heard of but hadn't booked ahead. He insisted on taking me at a ridiculous price ($2.50), refused to cave because I wore my vulnerability on my sweaty sleeve, and I flopped into the vehicle in resignation.

It was as if a friend or family member from home popped out from around a corner and came running to me, embracing my weary soul in a monster hug. Alice Villa Guesthouse opened their gates to my taxi, and the head boy in a bellhop's uniform took me in with a smile to the front desk. Every employee at this establishment treated me with the utmost care and concern, showed me a luxurious room with two beds, a fireplace, a personal bathroom, and cable television, and walked me into town to make sure I knew where to get a good meal. This hotel experience surpassed virtually every other one I had on the entire journey (minus the Kashmiri houseboat), and it all ran me a total of $15 a night.

"So you are traveling alone?" "Yes." "No one is with you or meeting you?" "No." "What are you going to do here?" "Hang out." "You really are alone?" "Unless I'm being followed." "And you're American…" "Indeed."

I can imagine what it's like to be a celebrity, or notorious, or a notorious celebrity. Being a spectacle for just being oneself can be amusing or quite unsettling. Who ever heard of a typical Midwestern American girl being considered "exotic?"

After bringing a close to my bathroom record, completely unpacking my smelly bag, grabbing a noodle meal to eat in bed with my hands, and watching numerous episodes of Seinfeld and Friends, I passed out in between some clean padding and a blanket. Simple pleasures.

The following morning I emerged slowly to shiver in the new air and see what the mountains looked like. The blank canvas of sky the night before gave me no smidgeon of an idea as to how gargantuan the landscape was, and I could only get a sneak peek by viewing the photographs adorning the guesthouse walls.

The first step outdoors brought me fresh air, with a hint of trash and incense, and a view of the tea hills. They undulated like a heart beat or the bathwater from a rowdy tub session, and the green kiss of chlorophyll in my eyes made me feel natural again. I crawled up a hill to the main square and found the fork in the road that leads to the town's best observation deck. Strings of prayer flags decorated or replaced power lines. Stray dogs walked past me as if they were running errands and checking off their "to do" lists. The road was seemingly endless as it snaked around the tip of Darjeeling, until I saw some benches and a turn ahead. The Himalayas appeared.

I thought they were clouds billowing and blowing across the hills. But these clouds were too pointy and shaded to be clouds; these were rocks. There was such a gap between the feet of the range and the snowcapped beasts themselves. Just looking at the mountains from hundreds of miles away, I could hear the winds at the summits, imagine the bite in the air and the number that could be done to my lips and fingers.

The observation decks were littered with more stray dogs, all looking almost pet-able and serene, and I looked at them, looked at the mountains in the background, and wondered if they sensed any inspiration from their daily majestic sights. It certai nly seemed as though the local inhabitants appreciated these visual luxuries, kids coming straight from school to the outlooks to chat or older couples enjoying an afternoon with sun on their backs and amazement in their pupils. I tried to blend in, but a little boy pestered me every time I looked away from him, sneaking up behind me to poke my sides, making startling sounds. I would scream like Lucille Ball, laugh in awe, and look around to see that everybody around was grinning, too. Innocent harassment felt like a big community handshake. Being picked on made me feel welcome.

"Altering my geographic placement upon which to reflect The audacity of the gesture and the potential for more as the main thrill and focus Making that presence truly felt by interacting and letting my personality subtly mark someone from that place Leaving an unconscious and feather mark legacy that seems greater and more romantic than a momentary dent and an activity list It's enough to mark a pin on a map or put it at the bottom of a running list Since I'm young and think I've got abundance in the future, I take it all in as a global pupu platter But this could also be it, and I could only know the skin at most, but I do know the fuzzy, ugly, stale, comforting, brown, flat, giggling realities of a small town that feeds the material of my most frequent dreams"

These are the sorts of thoughts that flow from a mind high on the Himalayas. I was tingling at my proximity to such grandeur and slapping myself for having this desire to see them. I couldn’t tell whether such a thirst came from soul searching depths or just the need to do something laudable and not have to fight anymore for a legitimate voice. My traveling mind always conflicted, it was impossible to ever feel pure emotions. Some day, I sincerely hope I acquire that ability once more.

After peeling my eyes away from the craggy range and getting harassed again by the comedic little boy, I just started walking. I followed every snaking road lined with street markets, tea shops, and Indian-style convenience stores. The grade of the roads varied from semi-flat to 45 degree angles. Thank you, Merrell Sports Shoes, for your adequate development of sole traction. It felt so wonderful to wear a scarf and a fleece, comfortable shoes and socks, layers and jeans, and not sweat profusely or accumulate visible, tangible filth on my legs and toes.

At the bottom of one hill, I found myself in a small neighborhood and amongst tens of school girls playing games like "Ring around the Rosy." My vision was cut slim by the surrounding buildings to only see an extreme vertical image of children under towering homes clinging to a hillside. I almost ran through their human tunnel, clapping and giggling all the way, but the sight was too perfect to disturb. It took me back to the days when the idea of "playing" gave me the six-cups-of-coffee jitters and my partners-in-crime were all I needed to be happy, back when I wasn't ruled by insatiable desires and nonsensical world missions. They looked at me once, I smiled, and then we all continued on with our days, I ascending the hill again and they sending the next girl through the tunnel of hands.

Branching off the main square at the top of Darjeeling was a road designated for foot traffic and booth browsing. Shops selling winter accessories, Kashmiri goods, and anything tourists or locals could ever need were abundant. A puppy the size of a lemon slept without bother next to 90 year-old saleswomen and her wares. The universal mission in this community to be content was palpable. After six months on the road, the only take-home items I purchased were a Masai bracelet and a few clothing items. It seemed as perfect a time as any to do a little shopping. Withholding until India gave me thrilling backpack space to work with, so I walked into the only shop that appeared remotely unique and just stood still inside.

DSC_0312

The owners smiled and stared in anticipation of a big sale, but I remained rather motionless, my eyes scanning the big paintings of mountainous landscapes around the room. The "fixed price" sign drained a little fun out of the moment, but instead I let the right piece yodel down to me, asking me to take it home. As a Californian hippie in Brazil, a.k.a. the "Vege-Nazi," once told me, "If something calls to you, just buy it. If it doesn't, move on." One large painting worked its magic on me, and I walked away smiling, envisioning the blank wall in my future abode the painting just filled.

One very early and quite frigid morning in China, I experienced the delight of real Tibetan dumplings, the chewy yet crisp sensations almost as comforting as the salty, homemade quality of the flavors. It was one of the best meals I can ever remember having, and the ambiance of sitting on a deck overlooking an historically preserved Southern China town with my best friend pumped the moment up to perfection. This lingering memory of great veggie-filled dough balls led my nose to a place with "Tibet" on the window and one woman by a stove.

Steam from a vegetable broth condensating on my face. Perfect noodles splashing trickles on top of my nose and around my cheeks. Hand-crafted lumps soaking up soy sauce and spices, layering the dumplings' flavors with extreme contrasts. I scanned my Lonely Planet for the next best thing to do, but all I wanted was to have this meal again and again. Soul food for the feeble and relaxed.

Darjeeling, in one day, had become a place where I could talk to no one and feel I was amongst friends. I still felt completely independent, but I was lifted up by a community that wanted me to be there. With a pair of fingerless gloves and a notepad, this is the perfect town to be a writer.

I stayed for a week.